Johnny Sexton has urged Ireland to look at their win over New Zealand as the start of a two-year journey that ends at the 2023 World Cup.
Ireland delivered an outstanding display to beat the All Blacks 29-20.
The result and performance was reminiscent of Ireland’s famous win in 2018 when they defeated the same side on home soil for the first time.
However their form dropped after that win and was not recovered by the time they arrived at the World Cup in Japan.
Captain Sexton revealed that the side spoke after the game about ensuring Saturday’s win was not the high-point of their four-year cycle.
“It’s important that we continue to improve. If this is our peak then it’s no good to anybody,” said the fly-half.
“I think there is room for improvement. There’s room for improvement individually. You can see some of the stuff from the first half, things needs improved on to take your chances because we could have scored a few tries.
“We need to keep our feet on the ground and keep driving this thing. There’s a lot of young guys in there – very young. Younger than me. And they need to realise that this is still the start and we need to keep building.”
The win elevates the feel-good factor currently surrounding an Irish side who are now on a seven-game undefeated streak having turned their form around after a poor start to the year when they lost their two opening Six Nations games.
“The great thing about beating New Zealand is the lift it gives to the country, but you don’t win a trophy. You don’t have something to show for it as such,” Sexton continued.
“As happy as we are we need to push on.”
‘We stuck to the process of backing ourselves’
Ireland were good value for their win against a New Zealand side that frustrated their hosts for large parts of the first half with a sensational backs-to-the-wall defensive effort.
Ireland were unable to break through the All Blacks’ resistance after James Lowe’s early score, despite spending most of the the opening 40 minutes in opposition territory.
Codie Taylor’s try came as a sucker punch for Ireland and saw them trail by five at the interval.
But they remained undeterred by the missed opportunities and continued to pile forward after the break, resulting in early second-half scores from Ronan Kelleher and Caelan Doris.
“We weren’t frustrated in the sense that there was a feeling from the players that when we were at our best we were causing them trouble,” said head coach Andy Farrell.
“The sense of confidence was there but we talked about just being calm and sticking to the process. There’s all sorts of things that can go through your mind regarding thinking too far ahead as far as winning.
“It’s about the process of everything. Making sure that our exits are clean, which they were, making sure our kicking game was spot on and it was great from time-to-time, and just keep playing.
“Even in the last 10 minutes, we’ve seen so many sides against the All Blacks try to shut up shop but you’ve just got to keep playing, stick to the process of backing ourselves.”
Ireland will play their final game of 2021 next week at home to Argentina, where they will hope to extend their winning streak to eight before turning their attentions to next year’s Six Nations.